This Celtics team is hardly ever caught saying the “wrong thing” in a press conference or post-game interview. One of the “right things” that has been this team’s mantra throughout the year is the notion that everyone knows their role and they will fulfill that said role. This is all well and good if you are fielding a team of neophytes trying to trying take down a perennial juggernaut (curious Thunder crack). The only green attribute this Celtics’ team possesses is there attire.
This veteran savvy team has shown the ability to step up and step in to different roles if called on to do so. Take Glen Davis in Game 2 of the Heat series for example. With Kevin Garnett suspended, Davis was called upon to replace Garnett’s production and intensity. Big Baby did all that and more, finishing the Game with a gutsy 23 points and 8 rebounds in 30 minutes. This uncharacteristic stepping out of one’s role may be exactly what the Celtics need if they are going to make any noise against the Cavaliers.
A huge part of the Cavaliers offense is predicated on LeBron James getting to the foul line, and consequently getting the opposition in foul trouble. Despite Kevin Garnett teaching the entire Celtics front court how to contest without making contact, James’ body type is such that it makes it near impossible not to draw some semblance of shot-altering contact. In fact, James is such a match-up nightmare, it is almost a forgone conclusion that the Celtics will have to do some things out of their comfort zone if they are going to get passed James and the Cavaliers- and it starts with the front court:
Glen Davis: The Cavaliers have too much depth upfront. They acquired former Allstar Antawn Jamison at the trade deadline only to get the front-court player they traded away back. With Garnett on Jamison, this leaves Glen Davis to fend off Anderson Varejao- a clear mismatch. Verajao is arguably the most active big man in the league. Baby hardly lacks the intensity to match-up with Varejao, but unfortunately he is just not big enough, nor is he capable of being as active on the glass. Davis will also be forced to spend some time guarding Shaquille O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and JJ Hickson. Those three guys, plus Varejao serve as the four different archetypes of NBA big men. Shaq with his girth and Wilt-like dominance. Big Z has the ability to shoot the mid-range J thus drawing his defender out of the painted area. Varejao is a hustlin’ menace who draws the ire of most opposing fans (yet, somehow I have grown to respect). And Hickson is a talented and athletic young kid that likely will not see much time but should.
Big Baby is a “baby” version of all four of those players. Everyone knows about Baby’s girth and energy, but he lacks the length to volley in put-backs like Varejao, he lacks the height to hamper a Shaq jump hook, and he lacks to quickness and overall athleticism to guard a JJ Hickson. Baby’s shortcomings however, are not indicative of a Celtics second round defeat. They are evidence of the ways in which Baby needs to step his game up, expand his skill set, and expand his role.
The Miami series gave Baby a chance to showcase a new skill in his bag of tricks- the mid-range jumper. The Celtics will need this to be consistent, as well as encores of the spin move Davis exhibited on Udonis Haslem and Joel Anthony in the fourth quarter of last night’s game if they want to get any meaningful production from their backup power forward.
Kendrick Perkins: Perkins had a breakout performance last night (and yes, 8 points constitutes a Perkins’ “breakout”) but more importantly, did not elicit a single travel call. Perkins kept his happy feet at bay while making quick and decisive moves to the basket. This stride has to remain consistent if he is going to enjoy any type of advantage on the Cavalier big men. Perkins also had an exceptional eye for the rock on the block last night. He ended the game with only four blocks, but each one was meaningful- whether it begot a change in possession or momentum.
The obvious will be explored later with much more depth. But expanding rolls may be one of the little things that will serve as a crux for this series and the only way the Celtics can get an edge on this Cavalier team. The Cavs are very deep at nearly every position and the Celtics will most likely need to go deeper in their bench than was necessary to defeat the Heat. Dare I say this series will have more than an uncomfortable allotment of minutes to guys like Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson, and Shelden Williams?
We shall see Saturday.